Commentary | Aug. 3, 2021

Perfect cadence: The U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s new electrocardiogram initiative

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Abban

The saying goes New Year, new beginnings. However, between the hours of seamanship skills and close order drill, the Coast Guard Academy Class of 2025’s seven-week journey toward becoming cadets appears no different from any other summer. Yet, during the second week of Swab Summer, all 291 swabs were the first to benefit from the Academy’s new medical screening project.  

This year, the Coast Guard Academy’s (CGA) Medical Clinic and Coast Guard Auxiliary Health Services have forged a new partnership with the purpose of conducting electrocardiogram screenings for the incoming class. 

“This is a historic project to prevent sudden cardiac death,” said Capt. Esan Simon, Medical Director at the CGA.

Electrocardiograms (ECGs) are devices used to measure the heart’s electrical activity. They play a pivotal role in identifying arrhythmias, irregular patterns of heartbeat, which could be lethal if not promptly identified and treated. 

Inspiration for this collaboration, otherwise known as the CGA ECG Screening Project, came in the wake of tragedy at the U.S. Naval Academy. These events spurred the Navy’s partnering with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USUHS) to conduct ECGs on all midshipmen.

Recognizing the value and importance in such screenings, the CGA followed suit, consulting with Dr. Mark Haigney, Director of Cardiology at the USUHS, to create their own version of the testing initiative. 

Active duty medical personnel and auxiliarist volunteers, under Simon’s leadership and Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Cuevas from the CGA Medical Clinic, Dr. Mark Perni from Coast Guard Auxiliary Health Services and cardiologists Dr. James McCriskin, Coast Guard Auxiliary medical officer, and Dr. Elizabeth Noll, used the Cardea 20/20 ECG machine for the screening process. 

This device was created with the specific intent to screen the heartrates of athletes, a specialization that mitigates the chances of detecting a false-positive result. Currently, several NCAA programs as well as professional sports leagues use the Cardea 20/20 as their organization’s designated ECG device. 

The ECGs will aid in identifying up to 70% of at-risk individuals for sudden cardiac death. 

“This project would not have been possible without the incredible support and hard work of the Coast Guard Auxiliary,” Simon explained. “They supplied over 30 auxiliarists to ensure the successful planning and execution of this significant health and wellness initiative.” 

Learn more about Coast Guard Auxiliary health care professionals and their services they provide to the Coast Guard here.